What to know about protecting your skin during colder months
Guest Editorial by The Skin Cancer Foundation
As autumn turns to winter, many places in the country are experiencing cooler weather and less sunlight. While it may be tempting to slack off on sun protection when the rays aren’t beating down, it’s imperative to stay vigilant through the darker winter months.
“Most ultraviolet rays from the sun can penetrate cloud cover and fog,” says Deborah S. Sarnoff, M.D., president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “So you can still sustain sun damage – which can lead to skin cancer and premature skin aging – during winter months.”
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are mainly responsible for sunburn, are the strongest in the summer. However, UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice. Snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV light, so the rays hit you twice, further increasing your risk of skin cancer and premature aging. Winter sports enthusiasts should take special care: Skiers and snowboarders are at an even greater risk because these sports take place at a higher altitude, where the thinner atmosphere absorbs less UV radiation.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which lead to tanning, dark spots and wrinkles, remain constant throughout the year and can penetrate through clouds and fog. UVA rays can also penetrate glass, so it’s still possible to damage your skin while spending a bright winter day indoors.
Winter Sun Strategies
Your first line of defense against this sun damage is clothing. Covering up is easier in the winter – it’s cold! However, your face, head and neck tend to remain exposed year-round, and this is where most skin cancers occur. Don’t forget your wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses before heading out. A hat keeps you warm while keeping UV rays from damaging your face and scalp, and sunglasses protect your eyes while also fighting snow glare.
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 or higher daily to all exposed skin, and make sure to cover often-missed spots like the tops of your ears, around the eyes and near the hairline. Consider choosing a moisturizing sunscreen with ingredients like lanolin or glycerin to combat dry winter skin. Finally, try to avoid the peak sun hours (generally between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the winter months), and seek shade when you can.
Winter is approaching, but that’s no reason to let up on the sun-safe habits you practiced during the summer. Continuing sun protection efforts through the colder, cloudier months of the year reduces your risk of premature skin aging and developing the world’s most common cancer.
The Skin Cancer Foundation saves and improves lives by empowering people to take a proactive approach to daily sun protection and the early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. Since its inception in 1979, the foundation has recommended following a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use. For more information, visit www.SkinCancer.org.
•The opinions here are those of the author. Please consult with your own health care professionals for medical advice and guidance.